Roger Ebert once wrote that “movies are like a machine that generates empathy.” The Great Invisible is like the embodiment of that. Margaret Brown’s look at the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig calamity and its ongoing effects along the Gulf Coast is a sobering, frequently enraging account of corporate greed and the toll it has taken on folks who depend upon Gulf wildlife to survive. Rather than simply recount what we all learned years ago when it was twenty-four-hour news, Brown does something the cable news networks never did: humanize the story.
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean and chartered to BP, experienced a blowout and the resulting explosion killed eleven workers. It also uncapped a sea-floor gusher that flowed for 87 days. An estimated 210 million gallons of oil rushed into the gulf waters, destroying marine wildlife and bringing the tourism and seafood industries to a grinding halt. BP went into immediate damage control mode, setting aside $20 billion dollars for reparations to said industries. The irony: the fund was set up in an attempt to avoid the decades-long litigation that is still taking place after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Four years later, civil lawsuits over who should pay what and where to place the blame are still going strong.
Brown ventures deep into coastal communities in Louisiana and Alabama, speaking with those whom this disaster has affected most. She speaks with workers who were present and survived the fateful day, many of whom are wracked with guilt, the father of a man who was killed, and a volunteer at a local church who spends his days delivering food to poverty-stricken Alabama residents. It’s difficult to watch fellow citizens suffer like this, especially when they cannot bring themselves to trust the government in any way to help. Cracking oysters and shrimping isn’t high-paying labor to begin with, but when it goes away they’re left with absolutely nothing.
Those present on the rig describe what has sadly become standard operating procedure for disasters like this: cost-cutting measures in the months leading up to it, understaffed, overworked crews doing dangerous work, and zero accountability from anyone on the Transocean/BP side. BP did not participate in the making of the film, so we don’t fully hear their side, but their actions in the immediate aftermath speaks volumes. The human stories are intercut with scenes of oil company executives yukking it up over whiskey and cigars. Brown must have really gained the trust of these men because they don’t escape the film looking good. Their general take: don’t regulate the business at all and we should be thanking them for delivering energy as cheaply as they do. We’re slaves to oil and will be for decades. They run the show.
Widely regarded as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, it really is amazing how quickly we’ve moved on. It feels like once the sludge stopped washing ashore on beaches, we washed our hands of the situation and declared everything a-okay. BP is running smiley-faced ads saying as much. No new regulation has been introduced for the energy sector. It’s as if it never happened. The Great Invisible is a stirring, sad, and well-made account of a catastrophe that will be haunting us for decades, whether we believe it or not.
Length: 92 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: October 29, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: Margaret Brown